Valve Junior Head review by Epiphone

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Features: 5
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.2 (46 votes)
Epiphone: Valve Junior Head

Price paid: C$ 145

Purchased from: Long and McQuade

Sound — 9
I primarily plug my tele-knockoff into this amp, but sometimes just plug my acoustic with a pro-mag into it. Mostly playing something along the lines of punk, psychobilly, garage rock, blues rock, ska, and folk. I'd say this amp is versatile enough to get all of these sounds. With some lower-output single coils you can go clean, or with some fizzy overdrive. With some humbuckers in your guitar you get some heavier overdrive, though the stock amp wouldn't be high-gain enough for metal. The amp has some points in it that bleed the gain to ground, as well as treble, so you don't get glassy cleans or uber high-gain sounds, unless you mod it that is ;). I'd say that stock the amp is fine enough for most applications, but it's kind of like recipes for soups - add salt and pepper to taste. The bare-bones nature of the amp allows you to tailor it to your needs with mods and pedals, not high-gain enough? Mod it or get a tube-screamer type pedal, want reverb? There's a pedal for that. It's like the model-T ford of guitar amps, dead simple and bare-bones but highly modifiable.

Overall Impression — 9
This amp is certainly adequate for what I do, metalheads beware though: this thing won't give you a heavy sound without any serious modding. I've been playing for a while, but I've always been primarily a bassist. I dig this amp, and it's easy to see why there are plenty of similar amps out there. If this thing were stolen, I might try one of those other similar models though. Things I like about it are: incredible simplicity - just plug in and play, small and lightweight - it'll go anywhere without hassle, and lastly versatility and moddability - a simple circuit that is relatively well-designed: just mod/add pedals to taste. There really isn't anything I don't like about the amp, stock tubes are mediocre, and it's got a treble bleed in the circuit, not to mention lack of reverb, but these are all fixable, like I said earlier. I kind of got the amp to mod, as well as to have another amp to play through, and it lives up to my expectations. Overall, I'd give it an 8 or 9 out of ten, almost perfect for what I want it for, but certainly not for everybody - if you play a dumble, this is not your amp, if you want something like a Krank or a 5150 and don't know how to mod, this is not your amp, if you don't like using pedals, this isn't your amp. It is certainly my amp, and I like it a lot, and if you're anything like me, I'm sure you'll find that this amp is at least worth checking out in a music store.

Reliability & Durability — 9
This amp is certainly durable, I've played it in bars with questionable electronics, it has spent nights in basements, the trunks of cars, it has been dropped. It won't break on you, and if a tube does break, the tubes themselves are cheap - just a 12AX7 and an EL84, you could spend less than 20 bucks on replacement tubes. Anything that could go wrong with it is easily fixable - If a transformer blows, you could just get a new Hammond transformer for 30 bucks or so, or if you want to go boutique, go with mercury magnetics; if one of the components goes bad, the PCB is simple enough to figure out what went bad and there are plenty of stock schematics online. It's dead simplicity not only makes modding it easier, it also makes fixing it easier.

Features — 5
The features are fairly minimal, it's a tube amp, with a 12ax7 in the preamp and a single EL-84 in the power amp, running in class A. It has a volume knob, and three output jacks - 4, 8, and 16 ohms. I'm giving it a five in this area, because it really isn't much by way of features. If you want lots of knobs and switches, look somewhere else. That being said though, I play through an old blackface princeton knockoff, so I really dig the simplicity, in this sense I would consider it's lack of features to be a feature. I'm a fairly intelligent guy, but stick me in front of a 3-band EQ and suddenly I'm not sure what to do. On the other hand though, I personally wouldn't mind if it came with some reverb, even digital reverb. One drawback of this amp: it's a single-ended circuit using an EL84, and the topology of the amp really limits high end and low-end. The EL84 was used in radios, and it can only really put out 2 clean watts, 3 tops, so don't look to this thing for clean headroom. It still kicks out lots of volume when overdriven, but it won't fill a stadium, that's what the PA is for. This amp would be useable in just about any situation - if the gig is too big, then stick a mic in front of the cab or use a more sensitive cab. I'm using a 210 with eminence red fangs and it's plenty loud. One huge plus with this amp, in my opinion, is that it's a very simple circuit, which means that with proper reading and safety procedures, it isn't difficult to modify - people have Fenderized it, Marshallized it, turned it into a 15-watt push-pull amp, put a tone-stack into it. You name it, it's probably been done before. If you want to tinker around with something, this amp is cheap and simply laid-out, it'd be a great start.

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Got this amp plus the cab from a guy who had already done some mods to the circuit board to brighten it up a bit. I replaced the small-ish output transformer with a beefier Hammond transformer plus tried several better speakers in the cab (right now a WGS Reaper). For what it is, it is a great little amp and much louder (and now better sounding) than one might expect. It is also a great tool for testing tubes- since there is only one power tube and one preamp tube, you can use it to check tubes and see exactly what the tube sounds like without coloration from several other tubes. Anyway, lots of fun and looks great.
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